Starting a jewellery business

 20 October 2011

Amy Keeper is a self-employed jeweller working from a London-based studio. She uses images and writing from vintage postcards to make stunning jewellery with a romantic narrative.

Amy also runs jewellery workshops and  craft workshops for teachers, enabling them to encourage children to explore career opportunities.
Amy also runs jewellery workshops and craft workshops for teachers, enabling them to encourage children to explore career opportunities.

The images are set behind stones or glass and uses photo-etching to create the suggestion of a contemporary cameo.

During her time at the London Metropolitan University Amy won the British Jewellers’ Association Award and was commended for a Goldsmith’s Jewellery Award. She now exhibits her jewellery at fairs and galleries around the country.

Getting started in creativity

Since childhood Amy had wanted to be a jeweller. However, she did not pursue this career after leaving school, but instead headed for a degree in theatre studies.

“I simply can’t draw and I thought that this would be an obstacle if I wanted to become a jeweller. After graduating in theatre studies I worked as a prop-maker for a commercial company where I made large 3D models. This involved making decorations and models – including a Postman Pat Christmas grotto!”

“There is nothing I enjoy more than finishing a piece of jewellery that I am really pleased with."

Although Amy loved this work and it used her creative abilities, she did not want to stay in this field and started an evening class in jewellery at a nearby college.

“I realised I had let my lack of drawing ability hold me back, but once I went to college and found out more about jewellery I was hooked!

"I started with a weekend course and another introductory course and learnt how to make a silver ring. It was very basic and didn’t even involve any soldering. I became used to using the materials and practical equipment and was able to progress from there. Although I am not that good at drawing, I am a very practical person, which is essential.”

Qualifications for jewellery making

Amy enrolled at London Metropolitan University for their City and Guilds Certificate in Jewellery course. They didn’t ask for a portfolio - all she needed to do was to demonstrate her interest in the subject. After completing the one-year certificate, Amy progressed to the City and Guilds Diploma course.

“During the course I realised I wanted to have a go at making a career out of jewellery. My tutors were amazing – really supportive and encouraging, and helped me to develop my own original ideas.

"The course really helped me to think practically, both about the design and about how to actually make the pieces.”

Amy could have continued her studies after completing the City and Guilds, but the degree courses was very design based rather than highly practical. Amy decided instead to take the plunge and set up her own business.

“There is nothing I enjoy more than finishing a piece of jewellery that I am really pleased with. That might not happen every single time, but when it does it is really rewarding.”

Starting a jewellery business

The initial years of any design business are always tough. This is especially true for jewellery, where new ventures face intense competition.

Starting out, small craft shows provide the ideal opportunity to establish if there is a market for your work.

In the early days of running her business Amy did office work for three days a week to provide extra income. Even today she still works in an office one day to week to help make ends meet.

“The first thing that I had to do was to find a suitable workshop, as I was determined that I didn’t want to work from home.

"For the first two years I shared a workshop in London Bridge with two silversmiths. This was a huge leap of faith, and I soon found that I had a lot to learn! To start with I had no stock, and had to set about building that up.”

After six months of hard work Amy had enough stock to start selling her jewellery. She initially started with a jewellery party at a friend’s home, where she sold a few pieces.

“My confidence started to grow and I began exhibiting at small craft shows, such as Candid Arts in Islington and Farnham Maltings. Tables there were around £100 or less and this was an ideal opportunity for me to test the water with my jewellery.

“Two years ago I moved to a new studio at Craft Central in Clerkenwell. They offer great business training and the chance to sell your work through their successful ‘Open Studios’.

"Being part of the Craft Central Network means that my work is seen by a much wider audience, including galleries.”

Marketing and selling jewellery

Effective marketing and publicity are vital for the success of any new business. Starting to exhibit at bigger and more prestigious shows is one way to achieve this. Amy has just returned from her first year at the Origin Contemporary Craft Fair at Spitalfields, organised by the Crafts Council.

“I was thrilled to be accepted this year for the Origin Fair, even though it is very expensive to exhibit there. Competition to get in is intense, but it really is the fair everyone wants to be seen at.

"Fairs like this also provide an excellent opportunity for networking and making new friends.”

Amy uses lots of other ways to market and sell her work, including:

  • Market websites such as ‘Not on the High Street’ and ‘Etsy
  • Pop-up shops – where makers sell their work in unoccupied shops, and rent the premises for a week or two
  • Art and craft galleries and shops
  • Craft shows and fairs around the country

Running jewellery workshops

There are so many jewellers out there – make pieces that people have seen before.

Amy has started to branch out into teaching. This is something that she wants to develop further, perhaps by undertaking further training.

“Last year I ran a jewellery workshop at Kensington Palace, which I really enjoyed. My brief was to help participants to make something in keeping with the Enchanted Palaces Exhibition, and we made stamped charm bracelets.

"I also run craft workshops for teachers, to enable them to teach children crafts and encourage them to explore career opportunities within the sector.

“Expanding my teaching role is definitely one of my goals, as I enjoy the work and it can help to supplement your income.”

7 tips for starting as a jewellery maker

  1. Start small
    When you are starting out, small craft shows provide the ideal opportunity to establish if there is a market for your work.
  2. Work with other jewellers
    Gaining support from other jewellers is essential. For me actually working alongside other people was very beneficial. You can also join a group such as the British Jewellers’ Association or other smaller groups
  3. Consider joining a craft network
    e.g. Craft Central – for a modest annual fee you are given a profile on their website and can also apply for their Open Studios to sell your work
  4. Find a studio space
    Try to find a subsidised studio/workshop rather than working alone at home, which can be very isolating
  5. Learn to price your work
    Establishing the right price for your jewellery can be difficult. Your prices – both trade and recommended retail – must reflect the amount of time you have invested
  6. Keep your work creative
    There are so many jewellers out there – aim to make pieces that people will not have seen before. You also need to change your ideas and designs regularly to keep everything fresh
  7. Stay committed to your work
    Running your own jewellery business is a big commitment and there have been many times when I have wanted to give up. You need the right attitude and the willingness to work very hard.”

You can see more of Amy Keeper's work at www.amykeeperjewellery.co.uk


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